It was clear skies in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset. Unusual for the neighborhood which is known for being socked in with fog. But the sun shone bright onto the intersection at 46th Ave. and Moraga St. However, all was not well.
Fourteen hours prior, late at night on Sept, 18th, the intersection of 46th Ave. and Moraga St. was an active crime scene. All entrances to the intersection were all blocked off, and officers knocked on the doors of nearby houses taking statements from the residents within as they began their investigation into the death of a twenty year old man, Ryan Sacdalan.
Sacdalan’s death was the thirty-sixth homicide in San Francisco in 2018, the second in the Sunset District. Firearm violence is an unfortunate reality in the United States. And the debate on how to best prevent it rages on, few places as hotly as the Bay Area.
San Francisco voters have made their opinions clear. And on November 8th, 2005, they voted fifty-seven percent in favor of Proposition H. The proposition would have banned any resident of San Francisco from possessing a handgun, unless it was for professional use, and require all handguns currently in the city to be turned over to law enforcement. While the proposition was eventually struck down by the California Supreme Court, who upheld that local governments do not have that sort of authority, it was telling of the attitude San Francisco has to firearms.
This was not the first attempt either—in 1982, a nearly identical ban was put in place, and struck down for the same reasons. These sorts of bans create an obvious historical precedent in San Francisco, one that shows a clear distaste for firearms.
A very well-known historical precedent in San Francisco is the city’s celebration of alternate sexualities and LGBTQ issues at large. From hosting the annual Folsom Street fair, a celebration of all things kink, and the Castro District flying rainbow flags year round, the residents make no apologies for embracing a person’s right to live life how they want to.
Here we find a strange conflict of Bay Area values, between LGBTQ rights and a clear distaste for firearms and concealed handguns. Walking the line separating the issues are the Pink Pistols. The United State’s first, and largest, LGBTQ pro-gun group. Representing the organization in the Bay Area are the chapters in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.
The Pink Pistols were founded in July of 2000 with the stated purpose to safely, and legally arm those in the sexual minority community with concealed handguns for their own self defense. This message of self-defense is one that the leader of the San Jose chapter and Pink Pistols California board director Nicole Stallard takes very seriously.
Stallard says that the LGBTQ population has historically been a target for violence. Perceived as weak, members of the community would be singled out and physically attacked. And the Pink Pistols looked to amend that, because, as they say, “Armed queers don’t get bashed.”
“When you’ve got several assailants coming at you with knives, or bats, and you’ve got nowhere to run you need to fight,” Stallard explained. “And a firearm can level the field and give you a fighting chance.”
The Pink Pistols preach acceptance. While they are primarily made up of LGBTQ members, it’s not a requirement for membership. They share equipment and ammunition and teach anyone who wants to learn how to shoot.
This mindset from the Pink Pistols was further reinforced by the tragic events at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was an event described by the then First Speaker of the Pink Pistols, Gwen Patton, as “the LGBTQ communitiy’s own 9/11.”
On June 12th, 2016, forty-nine people were killed and another fifty-three were injured in a shooting at the gay nightclub. It was an event that rocked the LGBTQ community to its core. In the following weeks, the membership of the Pink Pistols tripled.
“We had fifteen-hundred people across the country offer their services as firearm trainers after Pulse,” Stallard explained. “They recognized that people have the right to their own safety, regardless of their sexuality.”
Stereotypically, conservative pro-gun voters are not the same ones supporting LGBTQ initiatives. But Stallard went on to explain that she was surprised at the support the Pink Pistols have received from the conservative gun community, effectively crossing that historic line.
The training they offer is an important second step in the Pink Pistols’ teachings. Being able to handle a firearm correctly and having the right mindset for carrying a weapon are important aspects of safe carry.
Stallard is currently developing a training curriculum called Victim Not that promotes situational awareness and de-escalation tactics to resolve difficult situations without resorting to firearms. She plans to offer this training at a low financial cost, hoping that it will encourage a wider audience to take part.
As she explains, a concealed firearm is just a tool for you to react to a dangerous situation with. She believes the best weapon you have to survive a situation is your mind, and how you approach a situation. This approach is well received among other Pink Pistol members in the Bay Area, where it’s effectively impossible to legally carry a handgun.
The Bay Area is not so lovingly referred to as an “will not issue” area by Stallard, meaning that the police departments will overwhelmingly likely not issue you a carry permit. Over two decades, from 1987 to 2007, San Francisco issued 179 concealed carry weapon, or CCW, permits. An average of fewer than nine per year. For comparison, Napa County, with a sixteenth of the population of that of San Francisco, over those same years never issued less than three-hundred and thirty in any given year. With many years reaching well into the five hundreds of CCW permits issued.
As such, Pink Pistol members in the Bay Area resort to carrying things like pepper spray for self defense. And while it is a tool they have, they would prefer to have a handgun. Because, as they put it, the bad guys have them.
While mass shootings with AR-15 type rifles are an all too common occurrence, they’re not actually the most common type of firearm violence in the United States. According to the FBI, in 2016 there were 11,004 firearm related homicides. Of those, 7,105 were confirmed to have been committed with a handgun, or just shy of sixty-five percent.
And right here in San Francisco, the numbers are similar. The most recent data from the San Francisco Department of Public Health reporting on firearm violence is from 1999, but in that year sixty-seven percent of the firearms used to cause injury or death in the city were handguns.
In essence, the message of the Pink Pistols is that the legal, safe, and responsible carry of concealed handguns by civilians promotes self defense for the LGBTQ community, and society at large.